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A Brief Commentary on John 5:1-24
John 4:46—5:16 represents the first recorded occurrences of Jesus’ healing ministry. The first would be the Nobleman’s son (the second of His miracles). In John 5:1ff., we read of the second healing miracle of the sick man at the pool of Bethesda. It was a tradition for the sick to come together and lay in the pool with their infirmities. Some early manuscripts attest that the pool was actually red with potent minerals that had healings properties.
Verse 3b-4: “waiting for the moving of the waters; 4 for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool and stirred up the water; whoever then first, after the stirring up of the water, stepped in was made well from whatever disease with which he was afflicted.” However, verses 3b and 4 lack canonical verification. Some manuscripts include both (e.g., A C3 K Q Y W 063 078vid f1 13 565 579 Byz vgcl). While others only include 3b and others only verse 4. Only a few textual scholars today would accept the genuineness of any portion of verses 3b-4—for they are not found in the earliest and best NT manuscripts such as P66 75 א B C* D T Ws 33 f 1 q vgst syc co. Further, the manuscripts that do include the readings were incongruent to that of the vocabulary and syntax of John’s literature. And several manuscripts that include the verses are marked with “spurious” symbols (e.g., asterisk, obelisk). As a result, a number of modern translations (e.g., NIV, NET, ESV) follow the NA28 in omitting the verse number all together.
Verse 8: “Rise up and walk.” The power of Jesus’ sovereign words had the power to heal (and raise the dead, cf. John 11:43-44). God is in infallible control over life, death, sickness, and health (cf. Deut. 32:39); for He “works all things after the counsel of His will” (cf. Eph. 1:11).
Verse 9 “Immediately the man became well. . . .” This indicates the totality or completeness of the healing—not like some of today’s faith healers in which the so-called healing wears off.
Verse 10: “So the Jewish leaders/authorities.” In NT, the term Ioudaios (“Jews”) can refer to all the Jewish people, the citizens of Jerusalem and surrounding region, the authorities in Jerusalem, or, in a generic sense, to those who were hostile to Jesus. Here though, it seems that the author refers to the Jewish authorities or officials in Jerusalem, for they stated, “It is not permissible for you to carry your pallet” (v. 10).
The OT taught that “work” was prohibited on the Sabbath, but did not precisely define as to what “work” was (cf. Exod. 20-8-11), although, it seems to refer to normal employment. However, in the Rabbinical “oral” tradition (produced in the Mishna), the definition of “work” went beyond the actual “written” OT prohibition. The act of caring one’s bed from one place to another is one such “work,” which was prohibited. Thus, he did not break any OT “written” Law regarding “work” on the Sabbath, but he merely broke one of the so-called oral traditions that was created by the Jews.
Verse 16: “For this reason the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because He was doing these things on the Sabbath.” The plural pronoun, tauta (“these things”) indicates that Jesus healed on the Sabbath more than once (cf. John 20:30), however, the author chose this incident to be the example. The verb ediōkon (“persecuting”) is in the imperfect tense (from diōkō). The force of an imperfect tense is a continuous or repeated action occurring in the past. Thus, the persecution was a repeated action—for they kept persecuting Jesus.
Jesus Claims Equality with God the Father
Especially in verses 17-24, Jesus makes striking and undeniable claims of His deity, that is, His equality with God the Father. They also supply an unambiguous proof that Jesus’ unique claim of being the Son of God was an undistinguishable claim of being God the Son—namely, God Himself (cf. John 1:18).
Verses 17: “My Father has been working until now, and I have been working.” Here Jesus responds to the charges brought against Him: Although the Father’s creative activities stopped after six days, His work in justifying, rewarding, punishing, and upholding and governing the universe, etc. never stops or rests. As the Father “works,” the Son works too in such things as answering prayers, raising the dead, advocating, healing, and even works on Sabbath days. Hence, God’s work in doing good does not rest. In Mark 2:27, Jesus points out that the Sabbath is a blessing, not a burden—it was made for man. He is the “Lord of the Sabbath” (Matt. 12:8) as such, He is higher and greater than the Sabbath being equal to God the Father and thus, His work will not be interrupted by a Sabbath day.
Verse 18: “For this reason therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God.” Here, Jesus makes a most astonishing claim of being equal to God. Hence, it establishes a very important point of apologetics. As seen above, Jesus’ unique claim of being the Son of God was tantamount to a claim of being “God the Son,” God Himself. The speedy response of the Jews shows this to be true: “For this reason . . . the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him.” Jesus’ explicit claims to be God also in John 8:58 and 10:27-30 incited the same response by the Jews.
Furthermore, the term translated, “breaking” (eluen, lit., “relaxing,” “loosing”) and “calling” (elegen) as in “calling God His Father” are both in the imperfect tense. As mentioned, the imperfect tense indicates a continuous or repeated action occurring in the past. Hence, evidently this was not the first time that Jesus “loosed” the Sabbath and claimed God was His Father in the sense of essence/nature—it was a repeated claim.
Also, note the pronoun heauton (“Himself”): “[He] was [repeatedly] calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God.” The pronoun is “reflexive.” In Greek, a reflexive pronoun is where the subject (in this clause, the Son) is also the object receiving the action of the verb (“making”). Thus, He Himself was making Himself equal with God.
Lastly, the complaint that the Jews made in John 19:7 should remove any doubt that Jesus’ unique claim to be God’s Son was an unequivocal claim to be God (which they saw as blasphemy): “We have a law, and by that law He ought to die because He made Himself out to be the Son of God.” The fact that Jews appealed to the Law regarding blasphemy (cf. Lev. 24:16) shows clearly that along with John 8:58-59 and 10:30-33, they responded to how they understood Jesus’ claim: A claim of deity.
Verse 19: “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner.” This text says that the Son has ou dunatai (“no ability”) to do things apart from the Father. Why?—because He is God. As God, the Son not only “choses” to do the will of the Father, but He is not able to do anything other. In contrast, we can do things apart from God, like sin—due to our inability not to sin (because of the Fall). But as God, the Son “cannot” do anything apart from God. So, instead of this passage denying the deity of the Son (as Muslims and JWs use it), it actually affirms it.
Verse 20: The “greater than these” (i.e., works of healing) is a reference to the works that the Son shares with the Father as indicated in the following verses: The Son gives life; resurrects the dead; judges, determines the destiny of man, etc.
Verse 21: “For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son also gives life to whom He wishes/wills.” Here we have an amazing claim of the Son establishing yet again His ontological equality with God the Father: The Son raises the dead and gives life to them—according to His sovereignty: “To whom He wishes/wills.” Raising the dead and giving them life is the Son’s absolute prerogative as God (cf. Luke 10:21-22; see also Deut. 32:39). Here, the raising of the dead and giving them life may refer to the OT saints, the physically dead, the spiritually dead, or incorporating all forms of resurrections (both physical and spiritual) as verses 24-29 indicate.
Verse 22-23: “For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son, 23 so that [hina] all will honor the Son even as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.”
Here we have a “purpose and result clause” signified by the conjunction hina (“so that/in order that”). Thus, the PURPOSE of the Father giving all judgment to the Son was for the RESULT that all would honor the Son just as (kathōs, “in the same way”) they honor the Father. That means in the same way we honor, worship, and glorify the Father, we should honor, worship, and glorify the Lord Jesus. In Scripture, the Son was worshiped in the same sense (i.e., religious worship) as that of the Father (cf. Dan, 7:14; Matt. 14:33; Heb. 1:6; Rev. 5:13-14; 22:3).
Verse 24: “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.” This passage strongly and exegetically affirms the perseverance and preservation of the genuine Christian. Jesus provides the ultimate promise of peace with God and thus, eternal life to those He redeemed. Consider the following details:
1. Note the two active present tense participles, pisteuōn (“believing”) and akouōn (“hearing”), which grammatically signify the ongoing actions of the “hearing” Jesus’ word, and “believing” Him who sent Him. In the NT, especially in John’s literature, we frequently find these kinds of participles in contexts of sanctification. A true Christian’s life will be characterized by ongoing actions such as “believing” in Christ (3:16; 6:47); “honoring” Him (5:23); “hearing” His words (5:24); “eating” His flesh and “drinking” His blood (6:54); “coming” to Him (6:35, 37); “living” in Him (11:26); etc. (cf. also Matt. 7:7-8).
2. Grammatically, the two participles (“hearing,” “believing”) denote an action that is simultaneous to the time of the leading present active indicative verb, echei (“has”). Thus, eternal life for the believer is not a future prospect or possibility; rather, it is an absolute certainty. The same grammatical relationship (pisteuōn with echei) is found in John 6:47.
3. Because the one believing “has” (possesses) eternal life, he will never come into God’s wrath and judgment (cf. John 3:36; Rom. 5:8-10; 1 John 5:12).
4. After affirming the permanency of eternal life, Jesus then affirms His redemptive guarantee for the believer: he “has passed out of death into life.” The verb metabebēken (“has passed”) is a perfect tense denoting a completed past action with continuous results into the present (as with the verb tetelestai in John 19:30: “It is finished”—for all time!). Hence, the reason as to why the one hearing and believing “does not come into judgment” is because he “has passed out of” perfectly and completely, spiritual death (cf. John 6:37-40; 10:28; 11:25-26; Rom. 4:8).
 In opposition to the heretical teachings of Rome (viz. Transubstantiation), in John 6:35 Jesus defines clearly what He means by eating His flesh and drinking His blood. “I am the bread of life; he who comes [lit., “the one coming”] to Me will not hunger, and he who believes [lit., “the one believing”] in Me will never thirst.” So, as the “bread of life,” coming to Him is symbolic of eating His flesh (for he “will not hunger”), and believing in Him is symbolic of drinking His blood (for he “will never thirst”).